Yi Swallows Chi
The defining idea of "swallowing chi" is to bring higher (external and/or internal) energies down through the core vessel, and guide them deeply into a tan tien; an esoteric activity that at least remotely parallels that of swallowing food. Swallowing chi exercises are not uncommon within Taoist systems, and they show up with variety of methods. "Yi Swallows Chi" is one such method.
A Little History, and Acknowledgements.
This method was inspired by Michael Winn's article, The Gentle, Easy Way to Pack Your Iron Shirt, specifically his Pulsation Packing method. That article led me to develop Yi Swallows Chi in my own practice, which I found to be catalytic to a number of key internal progressions - and which James McConnell confirmed as akin to a traditional practice. A surfer to my website, Jonathan Hall, alerted me to that fact that the method needed clarification for students: so, this essay. Thank you, Michael. Thank you, James. Thank you, Jonathan.
Yi and Yin
This basic exercise uses the chi from air, which is brought into the body initially by breathing in through the mouth, and then is guided more deeply into the mid and lower torso by the yi."Yi" refers to mind, or attention.
To be clear: this method of swallowing is not done by physically gulping down; it is done by guiding chi with one's attention, one's yi. Further, it's not done by spiraling or otherwise mentally condensing the chi. It's done by maintaining a spherical sense of gentle, open, relaxed space within the body - keeping one's attention gently focused within that space - and moving that gentle, open, relaxed sphere further down into the body. The chi is drawn into, and stays within, the sphere simply through relaxed openness and gentle attention: receptivity (yin) and yi (attention).
Not only is this an exercise in guiding chi but also an exercise in relaxation and core receptiveness. As you move the gentle sphere down, you'll sometimes bump into tension areas in your body. Part of the process is to let those areas relax, open, and receive. Sometimes the tension areas will quickly resolve, and the chi ball can move further down. Other times, not, and you simply let the chi ball stay at that tension area; the alchemical interaction disperses tension. With practice (and, for some, right away) you'll be able to guide the ball of chi all the way to acupoints in the lower abdomen.
1) Yi Swallows Chi is best done:
- in a standing posture. This practice tends to prompt deep vertical integration, which standing postures facilitate.
- when the air is cool, preferably in the early morning, ideally before sunrise. The cool morning air provides a contrast to the warm bodily interior: cool air is easier to feel. Also, there is something special about that early morning time... The cool yin from the night is most concentrated in the air, before the sunrise disperses it.
2) Inhale, through your mouth, a comfortable amount of air into the chest / thorax area (not below the thoracic diaphragm, as you'll use yi to move the chi down through the mid-torso and into the lower abdomen).
3) Gently hold your breath, and form the sphere of gentle open space, containing some of the chi-from-air that you inhaled. You needn't be strict about the size of the sphere. I generally create a sphere that is somewhat larger than a ping-pong ball, but smaller than a baseball.
Generally you'll want to continue holding your breath, gently, at least until you've moved the chi to its lower-most acupoint (see step #4 for choice of acupoints). This provides a more stable inner environment, so that the chi sphere will be less likely to dissipate during the time that you are guiding it. (Never hold your breath so long that you feel that you are forcing the holding of breath.) Once the sphere gets to where its going, and starts to deeply interact with the energies there, feel more free to breathe (or not breathe) as you feel so moved.
4) Guide that sphere down (as described above, in the "Yi" section) through the center of your body, towards an acupoint in your lower abdomen. You'll find that being steadily attentive to the chi ball is what keeps it intact, and is what makes this whole process work. Yi.
Reference the little orbit for major acupoints in the lower abdomen. This method needs very few repetitions to have a sufficient effect for a practice session, so I suggest that you swallow to each acupoint once, in cyclical succession, or just pick one or two acupoints to work on for a session. Allow the chi ball to interact with an acupoint by simple proximity and focused attention, or gently and briefly pull inward at the acupoint - as if the acupoint were being gently pulled by a string from the inside. This is especially easily done at hui yin (the acupoint at the center of the perineum) but with practice you'll find that it can be done with all of the major acupoints of the little orbit.
Take at least a few moments to relax and breathe normally between each repetition of swallowing chi. Stop simply when you feel you've had enough: not too much, not too little.
Benefits of Practice
Essay, Yi Swallows Chi: Benefits.
Relaxed Breath Retention
Yi Swallows Chi provides the core aspect of The Fabulous Four harmonious qi gongs.